The Mammals of South America

Science Center Objects

The Challenge: Accurate comprehensive information on current names of species and subspecies, their distributions, and means for their identification are required for effective conservation, management, scientific study, and enforcement of laws governing take, protection, and commerce. For the South American continent, up-to-date references containing this information have not been available until recently, but gaps still exist. The objective for this work is to provide a baseline of information to promote and encourage future studies on the mammal fauna.

The Science: A synthesis of information gathered during field studies, review of the literature, and examination of specimens in museum research collection has resulted in two volumes on the mammals of South America published by the University of Chicago Press. Volume 1, published in 2008, covers the marsupials, xenarthrans (armadillos, anteaters, and sloths), shrews, and bats. Volume 2, published in 2015, covers the extremely diverse rodent fauna. Work on Volume 3 is currently underway. This final volume includes primates (monkeys and tamarins), rabbits, manatees, cetaceans (whales and porpoises), carnivores (raccoons, olingos, kinkajous, weasels, otters, tayras, grisons, cats, and canids), tapirs, and ungulates (deer, llamas, alpacas, and vicungnas).

The Future: With the completion of volume 3, all major groups of recognized species and subspecies of South American mammals will have been covered. Volumes 1 and 2 already have generated new research, particularly by Latin American Scientists. Facilitated by information in volume 1, new genera and several species of marsupials and bats have been described as new to science. New information is essential for the conservation of South American mammals. As forest conversion to agriculture and other land-use patterns encroach on critical habitats, these species face serious survival challenges.